Anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S. About 40 million adults, or nearly 20% of Americans, have some form of an anxiety disorder. These may include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, depression, or specific phobias.
For people living with anxiety, the disorder impacts all aspects of their daily lives, causing them to live with a constant sense of stress, worry, or apprehension—which at times can be very intense.
A combination of psychotherapy with medication tends to be very effective for helping these individuals cope with, manage, and treat their anxiety. However, the medication typically prescribed to treat anxiety, such as antidepressants and benzodiazepines, can cause many unpleasant side effects, including weight gain, fatigue, sexual issues, sleep problems, and even increased thoughts of suicide.
As a result, many individuals are searching for alternative therapies to treat their anxiety. One promising option is CBD oil. A growing body of research suggests CBD can be quite effective at treating anxiety—due to the way it interacts with neuroreceptors to boost serotonin levels in the brain.
What is CBD Oil?
CBD (or cannabidiol) is one of many chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids, in the cannabis plant. CBD can be found in different strains of the cannabis plant, including both hemp and marijuana.
Typically, CBD oil is extracted from industrial hemp, although it can come from either hemp or marijuana. This is because hemp is federally legal across the U.S.
Another, perhaps more well-known cannabinoid, is THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol). THC is the chemical compound in marijuana that produces the feeling of being “high” or “stoned.” CBD, on the other hand, contains no psychoactive properties, so it does not create a high.
Some individuals report feeling a general sense of relaxation upon consuming CBD (which can be helpful for those with anxiety), but it’s primarily used to treat a growing number of ailments, including anxiety, seizures, chronic pain, cancer-induced nausea, and more.
The majority of people (62%) who use CBD take it to help treat a medical condition. Of those, pain, anxiety, and depression are the most common conditions. Over a third of these users report the CBD treats their condition “very well by itself.”
Is CBD Good for Anxiety and Stress? A Research Review
Currently, researchers agree that CBD oil “has considerable potential” as a treatment for multiple forms of anxiety.
However, the research is still developing around the efficacy of CBD for anxiety, and why it seems to work. A majority of research done thus far has focused on acute dosing for short-term anxiety. There isn’t much research into the efficacy of CBD for treating long-term anxiety. But, the findings thus far are quite promising:
- In a 2010 study of 10 patients with social anxiety disorder, researchers measured cerebral blood flow before and after participants were given a 400mg oral dose of CBD or a placebo. The individuals who took the CBD reported significantly reduced subjective anxiety, and their brain scans also revealed differences in blood flow to the limbic and paralimbic areas of their brain—two areas of the brain involved in producing anxiety.
- A 2011 study of patients with social anxiety disorder split participants into two groups. One was given a placebo, while the other received a single dose of CBD, 90 minutes before performing a public speaking test. Throughout the test, the patients who received the CBD presented significantly less anxiety, discomfort, and cognitive impairment. Moreover, they also rated themselves much higher in their self-assessments following the test.
- A 2012 study of animals with anxiety and patients with social anxiety disorder further confirmed its anxiolytic effects and ability to reduce anxiety.
- In a 2012 study, researchers observed rats to see how CBD affected their stress response to a predatory threat. An hour after they were exposed to a cat (the predator), they were given single or repeated doses of CBD, and observed over the following week. The rats who received repeated doses had less anxiety throughout the observation period.
- In 2016, researchers explored the effects of CBD on a pediatric patient with PTSD, for whom traditional medications had only been somewhat effective, and had created negative side effects. After switching to a once-daily CBD dose of 12 to 25mg, she was able to significantly control her anxiety symptoms, and enjoy better sleep.
How Does CBD Oil Reduce Anxiety?
Currently, researchers hypothesize CBD is able to treat anxiety due to the way it interacts with neuroreceptors involved in serotonin regulation. This interaction appears to affect your serotonin levels, which can be lower in individuals with anxiety or depression.
In the predator threat study we cited above involving rats, as well as in a separate study of mice, researchers found that CBD affects the functioning of 5HT1A receptors in the hippocampus and frontal cortex. These receptors help regulate serotonin levels in the brain. CBD appears to reduce the regulatory feedback provided by these receptors, which allows more serotonin to be released at a faster rate (thus reducing anxiety). Furthermore, in both studies, researchers observed that chronic administration of CBD causes these receptors to make adaptive changes that may sustain these effects for the long-term.
CBD is so effective at treating anxiety, that it can even counteract the anxiety produced by other cannabinoids, like THC. When both THC and CBD are consumed, CBD blocks the activation of THC by changing the shape of CB1 receptors in the brain, making them smaller so that THC has less to hold on to. As a result, THC-induced anxiety, and the increased heart rate that often accompanies it, go away.
What’s intriguing about CBD’s effects on anxiety is that it appears to only work for individuals with anxiety. For instance, a 2017 study of healthy adults without anxiety found that CBD did not affect their responses to negative emotional stimuli or stressors.
However, for individuals with anxiety, CBD appears to be quite effective at reducing short-term anxiety, and may have potential as a long-term treatment, if the studies above are any indication.
Is It Safe to Take CBD Oil for Anxiety?
A large part of what makes CBD so attractive as an alternative treatment for anxiety are its minimal side effects. In fact, it’s rare for people to experience any side effects when taking CBD. However, when experienced, they may include:
- Dry mouth
- Changes in body weight or appetite
- Low blood pressure
Typically, when side effects do occur, it’s among people who are taking other medication. If you are taking medication for your anxiety or another condition, it’s important to speak with your doctor before starting a CBD regimen, to ensure the CBD and medication won’t interact negatively with each other.
The other times side effects can occur is when the CBD oil contains other ingredients. CBD isn’t currently regulated by the FDA. As a result, less scrupulous manufacturers may include other ingredients, including THC, in their products, and they may intentionally mislabel these in order to be able to sell them online. A 2017 analysis of 84 CBD products sold online found that THC was detected in 21%.
Because THC can actually increase anxiety and paranoia, this mislabeling can be especially problematic for individuals taking CBD to treat their anxiety. We’ll review how to safely buy CBD products to avoid this scenario in a later section below.
Unless otherwise recommended by their doctor or pediatrician, it’s also advised that children and pregnant or breastfeeding women avoid CBD, due to a lack of research on the safety of CBD in these groups.
How Do You Take CBD for Anxiety?
There are a wide variety of CBD products available, and which one you use to treat your anxiety is largely a matter of personal preference.
CBD oils include droppers so you can place a drop under your tongue as a sublingual tincture. Many individuals prefer this method as it allows them to feel the effects of CBD fairly quickly (within 5 to 20 minutes), it’s easy to adjust the dose to the specific amount they need, and the overall process is simple and uncomplicated.
CBD can also be applied topically, where it enters your bloodstream after being rubbed or massaged into your skin. Topical CBD products include creams, lotions, lip balms, and transdermal patches. People prefer topical CBD products as it gives them an excuse to give themselves a calming massage. These can also be a good option for people who don’t like the earthy taste some CBD oils and edibles can have.
Vape pens and vaporizers
Some people find it soothing to inhale CBD, such as through a vape pen or vaporizer. Because CBD enters your bloodstream directly through the inhalation, many people prefer this method for quick anxiety relief. These CBD products are likely to come in various flavors, too, which can add to the enjoyable experience.
Edibles, capsules, and powders
When determining your dose, you’ll want to factor in the type of CBD product you’re using. When you ingest CBD orally, such as with edibles or capsules, it will pass through your digestive system before the CBD enters your bloodstream. Some of the CBD will get lost during this process, so if you plan on taking CBD orally, you’ll likely need to consume a higher dose than you would with the other methods of ingestion.
How Much CBD Should I Take for Anxiety? Dosing Guide
How much CBD you need to take depends on your body weight, your personal body chemistry, and the severity of the anxiety or condition you’re looking to treat. Generally, people take 1 to 6 mg of CBD for every 10 pounds of their body weight.
Taking 1 to 2 mg of CBD for every 10 pounds of your body weight is a good place to start. Then, you can gradually increase your dose until you start to feel the desired effects.
|Body Weight||Dose of CBD|
|100 lbs||10-20 mg|
|110 lbs||11-22 mg|
|120 lbs||12-24 mg|
|130 lbs||13-26 mg|
|140 lbs||14-28 mg|
|150 lbs||15-30 mg|
|160 lbs||16-32 mg|
|170 lbs||17-34 mg|
|180 lbs||18-36 mg|
|190 lbs||19-38 mg|
|200 lbs||20-40 mg|
|210 lbs||21-42 mg|
|220 lbs||22-44 mg|
|230 lbs||23-46 mg|
|240 lbs||24-48 mg|
|250 lbs||25-50 mg|
|260 lbs||26-52 mg|
|270 lbs||27-54 mg|
Do not be worried about whether you need to take more than or less than these suggested amounts. Your personal body chemistry may also affect how much CBD you need to take for it to be effective. Regardless, studies show CBD is safe for humans with rare side effects, even with chronic use, and in amounts as high as 1500 mg/day.
Fortunately, once you find a dose that works, you can stick with that. Unlike THC, people do not develop a tolerance to CBD. Further, researchers have found that CBD produces a bell curve response. In layman’s terms, this means that CBD is most effective when you find the ideal dose for you. You won’t feel the effects if your dose is too low, but if you take more than you need, you’ll also notice a reduction in effectiveness.
How Long Does It Take for CBD Oil to Be Effective?
Some people with chronic anxiety may choose to take their dose once a day. However, it’s common for people to experience some tiredness when taking CBD, especially at the beginning. For this reason, some people choose to split up their dose over the course of the day, to reduce any potential tiredness, or to take their dose at once in the evening before they go to bed.
If you are taking CBD to help with particular triggers, you may choose to ingest CBD before you expect to encounter those triggers. For example, a person with social anxiety disorder may take CBD before they’re attending a party, while an individual with a specific phobia may take the CBD before they expect to encounter that phobia.
For individuals with specific triggers, it can be helpful to use certain types of CBD products, as some forms of ingestion work more quickly than others. This mostly depends on whether the consumption method requires the CBD to pass through your digestive system before entering your bloodstream, where it can start to work its effects. It takes the longest to feel the effects of CBD when you take edibles or any products consumed orally, as the CBD has to be digested first.
|CBD Ingestion Method||Length of Time to Feel Effects||How Long Effects Will Last|
|Oral||30 to 90 minutes||Over 4 hours|
|Sublingual Tincture||5 to 20 minutes||4 to 6 hours|
|Topical||1 to 2 minutes||4 to 6 hours|
|Inhalation||1 to 2 minutes||2 to 3 hours|
How to Safely Buy CBD Oil for Anxiety
Currently CBD is not regulated by the FDA. However, by choosing a trusted manufacturer and doing your own due diligence, it’s not difficult to find a good CBD oil you can use to safely treat your anxiety. Keep the below questions in mind as you shop for CBD products.
Is the product made from hemp or marijuana?
While most CBD products come from hemp, they can also be sourced from marijuana. It’s best for individuals with anxiety to purchase CBD products sourced from hemp, as these will contain 0.3% THC or less. If the CBD is sourced from marijuana, it may contain up to 20% THC, which may increase your anxiety (and also be illegal in your state).
Is it full-spectrum or isolate?
Many people prefer full-spectrum CBD, which will contain more cannabinoids besides CBD. They feel the other cannabinoids produce an “entourage effect” which heightens the relief they feel.
However, some people prefer CBD isolates, which contain no THC at all.
It is pure or synthetic?
Avoid synthetic CBD products, as they are more likely to contain other ingredients which may be unsafe. For example, synthetic CBD products have been reported in a number of poisonings and severe side effects.
To stay safe, only purchase pure CBD products. To be extra safe, you might lean towards certain types of products. In the 2017 review of mislabeled CBD products we cited above, vape liquids were most likely to be inaccurately labeled, while CBD oils tended to be most accurate.
Does the manufacturer use third-party testing?
You’ll know a product is pure CBD as it will come with a safety certification. Reputable manufacturers use third-party labs to test the concentration of CBD and other ingredients in their products, and they’ll make this information readily available on their website.
What do the online reviews say?
Finally, read the product’s online reviews. These will not only give you insights as to the efficacy of a certain CBD oil in treating anxiety, but it will also reveal whether this is a manufacturer you can trust. Read reviews on independent sites, and see what people have to say in online forums like Reddit and CBD Forums.